We were joined this time, after our latest brew day, by Chooch. We explained how we believe that math and beer may be the source of profound insights and applications, such as the secrets of super luminal travel. Really it is our humorous justification for being so bad at bistro math, especially after sharing a few rounds.
The beer we brewed was the next iteration of my dubbel, the Dye-Cast Dubbel. As random as our sampling was during the day, we tried to tease out a common theme for an accidental St. Patrick's Day episode. We started off with Brooklyn Brown Ale though a Guiness or Murphy's might have been more appropriate for the day. Chooch had a great quote from his nephew who is of Irish decent that to drink like the Irish, if your beer is light enough to dye green, you are doing it wrong.
We recounted some of the beers we had while brewing, starting with the Val Dieu Grand Cru, a beer I had been hoping to share for some time. I was gratified that everyone enjoyed it as I had hoped. We dug a bit into what it means for a beer to be a grand cru and how this results in such a wonderful diversity within the class, like the difference between this one and the North Coast Grand Cru. The Val Dieu is a Winter grand cru and that is clearly one way grand crus can vary. Small wonder we like what brewers have borrowed from vintners that represents their best offering, a high selective and variable group rather than a style.
The second beer we enjoyed was the last one that John brewed, his Jinx-proof vanilla porter. It was wonderfully chocolately, with subtly interwoven vanilla notes. As Chooch said, John knocked it out of the park with this recipe. I explained what was a little bit different in the grain bill, the lack of black malt which in no way detracts from the resulting beer. In fact, I suggested that the absence of black malt lets the amazing character of the chocolate malt to come out from first pour rather than on warming as is often the case with dark beers. John figured that the use of a multi-rest mash for this beer helped leave some complex, unfermentable sugars that work well on the palate. John described some of the tweaks he may try the next time he makes this, include just a dash of black malt, some bourbon barrel oak chips, and a very small measure of cocoa nibs.
Chooch told the story of how he discovered Viv, his wife, is a bourbon lover. They sampled some beers at Mad Fox when Chooch realized their bourbon barrel wee heavy was overpoweringly boozey. Chooch was put off by the heat and the straight bourbon flavor but Viv finished the beer. John suggested that Viv's enjoyment of barrel aged, sipping rums may well dispose her to a good bourbon, too. This inspired a bit of reverie by John about Cherry Tree Cola with a good spiced rum.
We turned our attention back to the beer we were drinking, the Brooklyn Brown. Chooch offered that it may be a good gateway beer, being very accessible. I countered that it might be better as a second step after an uber pils or some other craft quality lighter beer. The very drinkability of this beer is why I got it, as part of my still ongoing beer diet. It was a good contrast to more flavorful beers like the Great Divide Claymore and the Flying Dog Gonzo Porter. We dwelled a bit on how my brew diet has been working since we last discussed it.
I mentioned cheating a bit on my diet last weekend for Chooch's birthday and how quickly I now bounce back. Speaking of that party, we described the intensely strong Colossus from Duclaw. Chooch and I were both surprised at how balanced an almost stunt beer at 21% was. John wondered if our recent inclusion of a refractometer in our brewing along with the multi-rest technique for mashing with which we've been experimenting may be key to this kind of balance.
Another discovery John thought we made through our experimentation was the under appreciated contribution of the base malt in many Belgian beers. I said that this would be entirely consistent with their secretive and sneaky practices. I reminded everyone of the story John has told before, about how many Belgian brew masters used a different yeast to prime their beers to hide the primary yeast.
On the flip side, we clearly were able to appreciate how judiciously the specialty grains can be used. I compared them to spices and other strong flavored ingredients that are best used sparingly. The multi-rest also revealed some very interesting color interactions that I don't think we saw with the prior version of the Dye-cast. John gave the last version of the beer mad props, comparing it to his 2nd favor beer, Brother Thelonious (ranking right behind Celebrator.) I took the opportunity to fill in the origin of what started as a clone of Pranqster, that my desire to try a new grain provided a point of departure that ultimately has proved very rewarding. Needless to say, we are all eager to taste the finished Dye-cast 2.0.
Since we had been talking so much about North Coast, the next beer we opened, after taking a break, was their grand cru. I believe it is based on a strong golden, a tripel, versus the other grand cru we discussed early in the episode. We've talked about house styles, with hops and grains, and John's first thoughts on this pour were about the almost maple sugar syrup note that is so common to many North Coast beers. Even though this beer was not brown, I thought it was a good book end with the winter grand cru as the weather the day we recorded was so Spring-like.
Chooch saw a Sam Adams Spring sampler on the shelves, speaking of the change of seasons. That got us talking a bit about Sam Adams, including what we thought was a recent acquisition of theirs, Angry Orchard. As much as they are right on that blurry line between craft and commercial brewing, they still honor their playful spirit, like Due North and Tasman even though the latter doesn't compare as well as we'd like to other red ales, like G'Knight. Chooch asked if we'd tried any of their imperial series, which we have.
We turned our attention back to the grand cru. Chooch definitely picked up on fruit notes, more apple than banana or red berry. I pointed out that this ability to coax such flavors from the yeast makes for the natural pairing often seen in beers like Unibroue's Ephemere. Unibroue is another brewer, very much in the Belgian vein, that doesn't spare much worry about categorizing their various offerings. John clarified that tripel is a relative term, referring to three fold more sugar of the regular version of a beer so the starting point remains variable. Chooch wondered if imperial was comparable though initially thinking that referred to just hops. John and I have had imperial beers that aren't just big on hops, more a subjective label the brewer applies that is again only really relative to the base versions of a given style.
We discussed how this looseness could be confusing. Conversely, even fuzzy classification offers provide relative mileposts for those cultivating their palate and exploring. John pointed out the other side, that brewers can feel constrained by labels. Certainly a good deal of creativity flourishes with this sort of limitation but that shouldn't curtail the adventurous who want to try something bigger, more different or entirely new in terms of beer style.
John mentioned how he'd struggling judging beer because of his receptivity to defying convention. I countered that I think there is still benefit to judging, in terms of getting some expert input into cultivating a craft. John agreed, offering an example from Cory Doctorow's podcast in terms of tightening up feedback loops and how that accelerates the development of skill. He further related that to our recent experiences with my new refractometer.
Chooch wondered if there were pillars, certain invariants despite the looseness in categories that we just rambled on about. I answered that perhaps in the context of some brewing cultures, there are clear recognizable notes and elements that are reliably there. It was one idea I found interesting in Charlie Bamforth's latest book. On the other hand, there are clearly brewer's, like many Belgians and most American craft brewers, who clearly just enjoy playing too much to be pinned down. John felt that even the formal style definitions, like BJCP, do in fact evolve, allowing some flex. John also offered an insight from his reading of Randy Mosher's "Radical Brewing" that what some of us have taken for granted as recognizably Belgian, the lambics, are in fact relatively modern developments. John so well explained how brewing is constantly in flux due to socio-historic influences.
I asked Chooch what he considered to be a milestone. The definition he gave was personal, that he could always reliably identify and enjoy wheat beers, like hefeweizens. This topic overall reminded John that he had an interesting discussion with Eric at Growlers of how malted wheat has seen an interesting diversification, that there are now wheat malts suitable for brewing that are almost as varied as barley. I didn't find this too surprising given the other examples we've seen of unusual grains, like the gluten free beers and Hitachino Nest Red-Rice. (Yes, I know I completely flubbed the beer's name.)
I thought that each person's pillars, then, may hinge on that individual recognition, especially rooted in their first experiences. We discussed this idea a bit further, about how especially early on, may inform tasting, the cycling between trying new tastes at the edge of one's palate then returning to known enjoyable flavors.